A STRAIGHT-A student masterminded a coronavirus scam to steal victims’ bank details and then shared them on WhatsApp.
Mohammed Khan, 20, sent thousands of bogus texts and emails inviting victims to fill in their bank details in exchange for “a Covid-19 tax break”.
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The messages had logos that were “remarkably similar” to the UK Government’s wesbite to fool those into thinking “it was from Her Majesty’s government”.
Khan also passed the information along to other scammers via WhatsApp, Inner London Crown Court heard.
The Queen Mary politics student gathered the victims’ personal information “with a view to committing fraud against their bank accounts”.
The “clearly very clever” student had been operating a number of sophisticated scams since 2017, but began to exploit the coronavirus outbreak on March 22 – the day before lockdown.
Khan, who lives with his parents and two siblings, was arrested at his home in Camden, North London, on May 13.
Malachy Pakenham, prosecuting, said: “It’s a phishing campaign to dupe customers to enter their personal details and passwords by sending a fraudulent website link.
“It gets them to enter their bank details on a fake website set up by the defendant.
“He had set up frauds from February 2017. This demonstrates a high level of knowledge of computers and he’s obviously a very clever person.”
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Kevin Molloy, defending Khan, earlier told the court: ‘”He’s a straight-A student who turned 20 a number of weeks ago.
“This is not somebody in some boiler room with screens everywhere. He lives in a two-bedroom flat and he looks after his sick 10-year-old brother every night who he shares a room with.
“He has incredible GCSE and A Level results, he’s heading for a first while living in abject poverty in two rooms.”
Khan admitted one count of fraud by false representation and one count of possessing an article for use in fraud at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in May.
District Judge Alexander Jacobs said in May: “He’s in control of the files, enabling him to receive the duped victim’ harvested details. It’s a main role he’s playing in this.
“There were messages showing he was passing banking details on to somebody via WhatsApp.”
The judge told Khan: “You have pleaded guilty to a sophisticated fraud in which I’m perfectly satisfied you are the main player.
“What you did was to prey on the vulnerability of the majority of people in society who at this present moment are worried, petrified, fearful about their future, about their jobs, about their homes, making ends meet, getting back to work or whether they still have a job.
“Sometimes this is coupled with having to deal with serious illnesses of themselves or of their family and very many having to deal with bereavement.
“Along you come, praying on those people, on anyone who might be gullible enough, and there are people sadly who would click on these scams including the elderly and others who are vulnerable because of the circumstances we find ourselves in right now.
“Some of whom might turn to family members to ask if this message is legitimate but so many are isolating so what you have admitted doing is sickening.
“It’s bad enough to prey on these individuals. It’s even worse to capitalise on Covid-19 – a phrase that brings shudders to everybody – and you’re using it to your advantage.”
Khan was jailed for 30 weeks concurrent for each offence.
DCI Gary Robinson, (Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU) head of unit, said: “Mr Khan thought he could get away with committing fraud by exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to callously send out fraudulent messages to innocent people.
“Through this investigation, we were able to recover a large number of account details, helping to prevent customers from falling victim to fraud and bring this criminal to justice.
‘This sentencing is a warning to those who believe they can benefit financially from fraud that they will be caught and punished.
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“The DCPCU will continue its work with banks and mobile phone companies to clamp down on the criminal gangs seeking to use the pandemic to defraud people.
“Criminals will use any opportunity they can to impersonate trusted organisations like the government or HMRC and will try to play on people’s concerns about their finances at this challenging time.
“It’s therefore crucial to always follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and not to click on links in any messages that ask for your personal or financial details in case it’s a scam.”
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